Situated in the northwest of Spain, the city of Bilbao is the capital of the Basque Country. With a beautiful climate and charming old town, Bilbao is also home to the Guggenheim but the gastronomy will be the real reason for your visit. However, if a trip there is beyond reach, there is another option: Bilbao Berrio. This top restaurant in the heart of London provides the perfect taste of what the region has to offer, right on your doorstep.
Bilbao Berrio specializes in pintxos (pronounced “peenchos”), the staple food of the Basque Country. The word is Spanish for ‘spike’ and consists of delicate ingredients skewered on top of one another on, you guessed it, a tiny spike. It sounds simple, and in concept it is, but it is the mixture of ingredients to elicit the maximum flavor and pleasing aesthetics that Bilbao Berrio executes perfectly.
It could be a sliver of smoked salmon, a slice of red pepper, a quail’s egg and an olive; a wedge of Basque cod, a serrano ham thin and a piece of hard cheese; a chunk of seared tuna, a curve of onion and a slender, sour pepper; the combinations are seemingly endless. Fish and seafood are the main staples from this largely coastal region, and provide a potentially pleasant break from the typical Spanish red meats.
If eating off a stick doesn’t appeal, pick up some montaditos; pretty much the same, but usually served on a small slice of light, crispy bread. Ultimately, all of the cuisine is tapas in style and variety, and so it is easy to taste a lot in one sitting without getting overfull.
With the food, of course, comes wine, and the infamous txakoli wine, typical of the Basque Country, is a perfect accompaniment to a Basque meal. In the region, a visit to the Rioja Alavesa vineyards is a must, using traditional wine making techniques and only local grapes. Harria white wine is highly recommended with a pintxo or three, as is the Medrano Rioja red wine, both of which complement the flavors and lightness of a tapas meal.
The final piece of the puzzle is gurutzeta, an absolutely delicious Basque cider. It is totally natural and tastes dangerously like the crispest of fresh apple juices, and even comes with its own toast word, txotx (pronounced ‘choch’) to denote its importance at the end of a Basque meal.
For those lucky enough to get out to the region itself, along with Bilbao there are the aforementioned Rioja Alavesa area, the EuroGreen capital Vitoria, and European Capital of Culture 2016, San Sebastian. Known as Europe’s Rio de Janeiro, pintxos, txakoli and gurutzeta can be enjoyed on the beaches and at the harbor without having to cross the Atlantic.
All that’s left is to pop into Bilbao Berria, get a taste of the gastronomic supremacy of the region, and remember to say ‘topa!’; cheers in Basque for a cultural and culinary delight.
Bilbao Berria, 2 Regent St, London, UK, +44 20 7930 8408